Drug Testing in Schools: Does It Work?

In the United States, many schools employ drug testing as a means of deterring their students from using recreational drugs. In fact, according to a recent Fox News report, 20% of high schools nationwide use drug testing, usually to identify athletes who are abusing illicit substances, and also to screen students who are participating in after-school clubs. The question is, does this type of screening really serve as a deterrent?

The Research

In a Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs study, scientists interviewed 361 students, and found no evidence based on those interviews that drug testing in schools provides any type of deterrent for either trying drugs, or continuing to use drugs. In fact, the evidence suggested that students who go to schools that have drug testing were every bit as likely to use as students whose schools did not employ drug testing.

Further, a position paper published by Students for Sensible Drug Policy also suggests that student drug testing doesn’t work. The paper notes that fewer than 5% of American schools actually test randomly for drugs, and questions the efficacy of regular drug testing over random testing.

At time of writing, no statistics were available regarding drug testing in Canadian schools. Given that drug testing in general is not all that common in Canadian workplaces, the lack of school-related statistics is not surprising.

The Objections

The Students for Sensible Drug Policy position paper also raises concerns about the invasive nature of drug testing in schools, and the potential for humiliation when a student is required to urinate into a container while a teacher listens outside. Students are beginning to feel increasingly powerless in schools in any case, being subjected to regular, unannounced locker searches, backpack searches, and even searches of their person, whether or not there is actually cause. This is a powerful argument in support of the belief that drug testing in schools is not only ineffective, it can actually be harmful.

Effective or Not?

The Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs study has concluded that no matter how good drug testing in schools would seem to be, it simply isn’t working. So what does work? The researchers concluded that when schools have clear and understandable rules, and students have good relationships with their teachers, they are 20% less likely to smoke marijuana. They’re also less likely to smoke cigarettes.

It’s probably a safe bet, though, that even in the face of evidence that drug testing doesn’t work in schools, well-meaning but wrong-headed boards and administrators will continue to advocate and use drug testing. Perhaps one could argue that this will prepare students for the “real world,” where they will have to submit to drug testing as a condition of their employment. If nothing else, drug testing in schools provides jobs for drug test technicians. It seems a shame, though, that these would appear to be the only benefits when it comes to school drug testing.



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